I just had the opportunity to serve with the Delight ministry as a leader to the attendees of the East Coast Retreat in Virginia and was speaking a bit on Business & Stewardship and abiding in Christ through their creative gifts. The Delight Ministry is a community of young ladies ages 14-20 who are passionate in an area of the creative arts seeking to find their own identity in Christ and how to use their creative gifts to glorify God.
I could share a million things about this past week. I WANT to share a million things about this week. Like the precious time I was able to spend with my dear friend Beth and her family who live nearby where I would be. And WHY it just so happened to work out that way. I want to share about the amazing women I served with and the young ladies I met who have forever changed me, encouraged me, and inspired me. I want to share the endless stories behind the hashtag given to me #angieinthewoods and the funny quirks of staying in a 200 year old farm house. The many laughs we shared, the many tears we shared, and the many victories we celebrated together.
I would love to detail everything we did. The activities that brought breakthroughs, and the moments that changed everything for this particular group of girls that God called together by name to share in this experience with one another.
But all of that is their story to tell. Not mine. In their own time, to their own audience.
Right now I am only called to share a story about a dancer in the field.
I talked with the girls this week about white noise and how sometimes we don’t even realize how desensitized we have become to the world around us until we turn it off. That a brick is a brick, whether it is used to build a church or used to break a window. It’s not the brick’s fault or accolade. It’s just a brick. Sometimes the brick in your life might be social media, or friends, or circumstances in life. It’s what you do with that brick, and the condition of your heart, that matters.
My brick can be my work in photography or ministry, or how I discipline my kids or my role as a wife or friend. My brick changes daily. The condition of my heart has been white noise covering that brick with doubt or uncertainly when I am facing daily decisions on seeking God’s will for my own life.
Sunday morning was the start of our last full day together at the Delight Retreat. As I prayed for God to lead us through the day, there was an obvious spirit of celebration as we were claiming victory over the many breakthroughs the girls had experienced over the past couple of days. As I prayed I had an image of a girl dancing in a field, celebrating and praising.
As a photographer, among many young photographers, artists, and musicians, I was inspired artistically by the idea of creating that image. I remembered that among the group of girls at this retreat, there was a dancer. I wondered whether or not she would allow me to photograph her, in the field behind the farmhouse as she danced. As I thought about this image, it became clearer and “finished” in my photography terms. It was black and white and she had a long flowing skirt dancing in the wind. I hesitated as I wondered if I was just being drawn selfishly, to scratch my own artistic itch, or if this was something I was just meant to boldly ask her to do because God was prompting it and I needed to listen.
There was a cluster of girls talking and I asked who among them was “the” dancer. Grace answered, “I am a dancer”. I asked her if she would mind dancing in the field and allow me to photograph her later that afternoon. She happily agreed and then apologized that she only had this “long orange skirt” available and wondered if that would even work. Of course it would, because I was envisioning a long skirt and that it would be perfect. It was so perfect in fact, that if I had intentionally planned an elaborately styled photoshoot, I would have picked that exact garment for this portrait.
Hours passed as we went about our day. The other leaders and I exchanged plans for later in the day and I mentioned to Erin (the head leader and coordinator for the retreat) that I wanted to take Grace out to dance in the field. Erin stopped in her tracks… and said that God had been showing her this girl dancing in a fields at this retreat for months beforehand, and she was almost disappointed that it had not come to fruition. She knew there would be a dancer among them but she didn’t know why there would be a girl dancing in a field or for what purpose.
After that confirmation I knew that this wasn’t just an artistic idea that I had, but it had a purpose and it had a purpose for Grace, specifically.
She had a set of 3 balloons and she asked to somehow be photographed with them. She had used them earlier for her head shots that we were doing with each of the girls that had come to the retreat. As we walked in the field together I mentioned that I thought about bringing her music to dance to, but I felt like it was supposed to be silent instead. That the music she would hear would come from within, and she could just dance how she was led, and to interpret whatever lyrics would come to her.
Turns out, she happens to be a “lyrical” dancer. But of course she is.
I asked her to take the balloons and walk into the field and pray about what God wants her to do in that field. And that when she was ready to just release them and just start dancing to the lyrics in her heart.
Yes, I was a bawling hot mess in case you were wondering.
It was an inspiring sight to see this girl come into her own before my very eyes. After a few quiet reflective moments, she released the balloons and just started dancing. She started and stopped, again and again as she worked through the barriers that kept her from being free in who she was meant to be. She felt hindered by her long skirt until she decided to remove her jewelry, her headband and anything else that was holding her back. She then embraced the fabric of her “orange skirt” (that just so happened to be in her suitcase) and just… danced. She just danced to the lyrics in her heart… for an audience of One – with full abandon and just worshiped in that field. As I look through the images now, the difference between the images in the beginning of her session and the end of her session tell such a story of her story during her time dancing in the field.
And sadly, I almost never even asked her. Because I doubted.
I doubted my purpose in that moment. Because of the white noise I wasn’t sure if this was a selfish moment of artistic inspiration or if I needed to call Grace out into the field for a purpose, for her.
The portraits are merely a souvenir from that moment. Not the purpose behind it.
The funny thing about white noise is that you don’t notice it until it’s off.
I challenged the girls to a 7 day Social Media Blackout following the retreat so that they could reflect on what they experienced this weekend and give it a chance to take root before allowing white noise back into their life. To be able to hear their own thoughts and ideas before being flooded with the thoughts and ideas of others. Social Media is just a brick, and of itself is neither good nor bad, it just is. But by turning it off for 7 days it will allow us all to be able to tune in more clearly to the purpose that God has for each of our lives.
Thank you, Grace, for trusting me in that moment (even when I didn’t fully trust myself). You could have easily retreated or held back and just “performed” but you didn’t. You grabbed a hold of that moment and intimately and fiercely pursued your purpose with intention. And I, for one, was so incredibly blessed by your transparency and bravery. And I know that by documenting this story it will be a blessing to others.
I asked Grace to journal about her experience immediately after to capture the raw emotions she was feeling. She did, and shared with me that she opened her bible and immediately found this:
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
But of course she did.
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